Startup Sales Strategy: How to Build Your Sales Team

Startup Sales Strategy: How to Build Your Sales Team

Securing funding may seem like the most essential goal for startups, but a business can’t run without the humming machine of a quality sales team. The importance of supporting sales is being increasingly recognized by businesses, with demand for sales roles increasing by 65% in 2021. Jasmine Hoffman, Head of Experience of TechUnited:NJ sat down with Deborah Leff to discuss the keys to building a successful sales team. Leff, who currently specializes in startup consulting, is the former Global Head of Sales for Business Analytics at IBM.

Continue reading for expert advice on how to attract the right sales talent and set them up for ongoing success.

When is the best time for a startup to hire a salesperson?

Cutting costs by maintaining a lean team is a good strategy for all early stage startups. When it comes to sales, it is actually beneficial for startup founders to get hands-on experience in selling. No one is more passionate than founders to sell their own product. This selling experience will help them ask the right questions to future potential sales hires.

This doesn’t mean that founders need to cold call; internal or external resources can help with initial lead generation, such as marketing firms. Build out these skills, but ultimately pay attention to when sales tasks are overshadowing other areas of your business.

“The time to bring in a salesperson is when you feel ready to teach the salesperson how to sell something,” advises Leff.

How can founders best prepare their sales team for success?

The best training is when a founder is able to take generic sales skills and combine them with specific talking points about their business. 

The average “ramp time,” or time it takes for salespeople to fully get up to productivity speed, is about 9 months. Creating “last mile sales materials” that explain sales methods within the specific context of a business shortens ramp time dramatically.

For example, the best way to handle objections is not to answer a question too quickly. Typically, what’s important is to understand the motivations behind that question. “Always answer an objection with a question that allows you to have a deeper discussion,” says Leff. Active listening skills are as important as pitching skills.

Selling isn’t just about knowledge of a product, but getting to know the prospective client well enough to be able to tailor the answers to further questions towards their specific needs. A salesperson should feel like a helpful resource, not just a salesperson.

What are the top three tips you have for conducting a successful interview?

  1. Ask an open ended question about background
    After asking an open-ended question, the answer is less important than the behavior. Pay attention to how the potential hire engages you: are they personable? Do they have a tendency to monologue, or do they engage with you? This will be a similar experience that a future salesperson will give clients, and will determine their success.
  2. Ask about their sales skills using indirect questions
    Use statements like “Tell me about the last sales book you read” to gauge how invested a potential hire is in their own growth. Along with specific technical skills, it is important to get indication that the potential hire has a vested interest in their own development within their field.
  3. Assess if they will be successful in your business’s particular environment
    It is important to have someone who understands the pace and flow of your company – does it make sense to bring someone in from a Fortune 500 as employee #1 at your startup? 

Who should be the next hire after the first salesperson?

The next investment in a sales team should be an inside sales rep (BDR), or add on another sales rep. It may seem attractive to hire a Sales Leader, but doing so too early on can be a major drag on company finances without the proper amount of return. The point a company should hire a sales leader should be when a founder’s own workload is too heavy. Sales leaders are not additive to revenue, they manage the revenue – remember this when making financial plans for growing your business.

What is your number one piece of advice for founders?

If you don’t have a sales engine, all other pieces of your company will slow down. The care and attention in recognizing how you hire, recruit, compensate, and train your salespeople will ultimately lead to your success.

Thank you again to Deborah Leff for sharing these insights with us. Watch this session below and connect with Debora by visiting her LinkedIn.

To connect with more startups in New Jersey, follow TechUnited:NJ on all platforms:

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